Ebola - thinking globally, acting locally

Following the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa, our teams who specialise in this area, were on heightened alert – both in terms of looking for opportunities to provide support at a local level in Sierra Leone but also in terms of the prospect of Ebola entering the UK as a result of International travel. 

In December 2014, our first group of staff volunteers went out to help support with the outbreak – helping to set up and run clinical diagnostic clinics in areas throughout Sierra Leone.   Five volunteers working for the CVR travelled over to help and provide support during the course of the outbreak and all honoured by HM Elizabeth’s Ebola Medal for Service in West Africa for their efforts.

Scottish Nurse Pauline Cafferkey visits the CVR with ITV

In addition to providing local support, Dr Emma Thomson and her team were also faced with providing support in the UK.  When Scottish nurse Pauline Cafferkey returned home to discover she had contracted the virus, Emma was tasked with providing clinical support in her treatment.  Due to her team’s expertise in the area of viral genomic sequencing, they took on the task of sequencing the strain of the virus taken from one of Pauline’s blood samples and were able to provide a complete sequence over a rapid 60 hour time frame.  This provided crucial information about the DNA of the Ebola virus and provided vital clues when Pauline became ill for a second time due to an unexpected relapse of symptoms.  A second sequence proved that the virus had not mutated and therefore, should still respond to existing treatment, but it did however, indicate for the first time, that the virus could lie dormant within the nervous system of the human body.  This was naturally critical information for governments and health care workers given the scale of the outbreak. 

In April 2016, Pauline and a film crew from ITV visited Emma and her team at the CVR both to find out about the support they gave, and also to give her own personal thanks for their commitment to learning as much as possible about this devastating viral outbreak.  Find out more about Pauline's story.

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